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This Is the Single Worst Trait That a Leader Can Have

Topics: Career Advice
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You think of yourself as a tough boss. You take a hard line with every decision, treat every request for a sick day with skepticism, and think “personal time” is a sign of weakness and inefficiency.

In a word, you’re a cynic. And simply put, cynicism is going to be a disaster for your ability to be an effective leader. Here’s why:

1. Cynical Leaders Don’t Inspire Workers

At SmartBrief, Susan Fowler discusses a study examining the impact of cynicism on employee performance:

In their recently published research study of almost 800 employees at a global engineering company, Taylor Roberts and Drea Zigarmi found that cynical employees are less likely to develop employee work passion. These employees don’t have the intention to perform above expected standards, remain in the organization or endorse it to others, use organizational citizenship behaviors, or use their discretionary effort on the organization’s behalf.

In an interview with Zigarmi, he explains that a person’s beliefs about human nature underlie their values, which are the precursors to the behavior that ultimately leads positively to work passion or negatively to disengagement.

Cynicism is bad enough in a worker, but it’s deadly in a leader. Fowler notes that cynics “are not likely to be effective developers of people.” Their low expectations can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

2. Cynicism Can Trickle Down From the Top

An entire organization can be affected by cynical leadership.

“[I]f you demonstrate cynicism, you’re likely to feed into your team’s cynicism,” organizational psychologist Ben Dattner tells NPR. “…To the extent that people are demotivated and disloyal and looking for other jobs, [cynicism] can be a problem.”

Dattner notes that you need to be vigilant about what you’re projecting onto your team.

“Don’t convey cynicism or pessimism yourself. Leaders of teams can have a strong positive or negative influence on team morale,” he adds.

Fowler also notes in SmartBrief that cynicism can be infectious: “Employees of cynical leaders are more apt to experience negative affect and feelings of ill-being, which lead over time to disengagement.”

3. Employees Won’t Work Hard for a Cynic

Dattner says that cynics can be some of the most demotivating aspects of a struggling workplace.

“Cynics by nature are negative with low expectations of others,” he says. “Your employees tend to live down to those expectations.”

When employees think they have no pathways to fixing problems that arise in the workplace, they’ll become cynics and disengage as well. Good bosses (and good employers) show leadership by providing ways for employee feedback to be submitted, listened to and acted upon. Leadership expert Jeremy Kingsley notes that good leaders should be open.

“Make sure that your employees know that your door is always open,” Kingsley writes. “Give them a safe space to vent frustrations and concerns, and act on their worries or do your best to assuage them. While doing this, let your employees know that communication is of the utmost importance, and that they need to open a dialog between each other.”

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